Dining Out In DC Breaks The Mold

Cocktails are served at one of the No. 68 Project's dinners.
No. 68 photos by Catianne Tijerina

As a heavy spring rain streaked the window panes of a small brick
building on 14th Street, 45 diners took their seats around candle-lit
tables covered with white cloths and decorated with tangles of tree

Through a progression of seven courses, a pair of
well-respected culinary talents presented their creations. The service was
polished, the setting was hip, and the meal, expertly prepared.

But this was no restaurant. It was one in a series of "cultural dinners" dubbed the No. 68 Project.

The brainchild of Jill Richmond and Hosan Lee, the Sunday night dinner
series pairs up a chef and mixologist who work together to craft a menu
that plays off a fortune cookie's message. (Richmond and Lee broke open piles of
cookies to find just the right fortunes.) Noteworthy cultural guests lead
the night's topical dialogue.

The night I attended, Bibiana head chef Nick Stefanelli and PS 7's
mixologist Gina Chersevani were the talents behind the fantastic meal
and cocktail pairings. DC Central Kitchen founder Robert Egger and
sustainability advocate Barton Seaver were invited to guide the dinner

Everything tied back, albeit loosely, to the night's
cookie-determined theme: "Moderate your appetite so that with a little
you may be
content." Including the greed-centric movie "Wall Street" that played silently on the brick walls, prompting plenty of tiger blood Charlie Sheen references.

With the dinners, which run through April 17, Richmond
and Lee wanted to create an environment where great food and great conversation take center stage.

"We feel like food and wine is a vehicle for gathering people to
share ideas," Lee says. "I love food, but I really love what happens
around food."

The No. 68 Project is a prime example of how dining out in the nation's capital is breaking the traditional restaurant mold.

From farm dinners, to underground supper clubs like Hush and Orange Arrow, to pop-up theatrical concepts like Bryon Brown's Sensorium (watch Metrocurean's video preview), to the well-curated collection of dinner parties put on by No. 68, going out for dinner just ain't what it used to be.

Reflecting an international food trend, DC's increasingly savvy diners are looking for novel ways to experience a meal. And as Washington's dining scene has matured, creative
alternatives to restaurants seem like a logical evolution.

Even conventional restaurants are playing with fresh ways to redefine eating out.

Earlier this year, Eric Ripert's Westend Bistro
launched a Sunday Brunch Club, which opens the restaurant for just
eight guests the second Sunday of each month. You essentially have the
restaurant to yourself as you sit at the kitchen window counter and get a
prime view of chef de cuisine Joe Palma preparing a four-course brunch.

Next month, Westend will launch a pop-up barbecue stand on its patio.

Exploring one of these pop-up, underground or makeshift spots can be a bit of gamble, given that price and execution (the latter justifying the former) can vary widely.

A seat at one of No. 68's dinners costs $155, and with chefs like Todd
Gray, Mike Isabella and Stefanelli cooking the meals, you have an idea of what to expect from the food. The underground Hush Supper Club is $75, while the "secret rogue restaurant" Orange Arrow is $60 for three courses. Sensorium, which will incorporate performances into the meal, runs $150.

To learn more about DC's fresh crop of alternative dining:

No. 68 Project


Hush Supper Club

Westend Bistro's Sunday Brunch Club

Orange Arrow